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The Pushback Against the Feds' Over-the-Top Anti-Pot Crusade

Oakland and Berkeley defend local cannabis regulation, taking U.S. attorneys to court.

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Sean Luse, manager at BPG, says the dispensary has done everything possible to comply with state and local laws. They were vetted by Berkeley city staff and elected officials, a public hearing was held to approve the location, and they even adhered to the U.S. attorney’s guideline requiring them to be located 1,000 feet from any schools, which is not state or local law.

“So, we were just very surprised and disappointed,” Luse said.

He adds that he’s grateful the city has come to BPG’s defense as the decision makes it clear that BPG is an incident-free member of the Berkeley community.

“When states like California and cities like Berkeley regulate medical cannabis distribution, it’s much safer, much more orderly and there are many benefits in terms of tax revenue and jobs,” he said. “It’s literally taking the crime off the streets and putting it into a state-controlled environment.”

Worthington calls BPG “the model example” of how a business should be run.

“I think it’s perverse that somebody would try to criminalize people who have gone to great lengths to follow city and state laws,” he says. “I guess it’s hard work to actually go after dangerous drug dealers, so rather than go after dangerous drug dealers it’s easier to go after a medical model that is very tightly regulated. They’re a much easier target.”

Berkeley’s claim, filed on July 3, states that the closure of BPG will likely cause an increased number of unregulated, unpermitted dispensaries and an increased number of illicit marijuana sales on the city’s streets, which will negatively impact Berkeley neighborhoods and businesses.  

“All three of our dispensaries have really been well-managed; they know what the rules are, what the laws are, and they follow them,” Worthington said. He added that he is hopeful that the city’s decision to step in and defend the local dispensary will be a wakeup call for U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to discourage U.S. attorneys from “doing counter-productive things” like targeting beneficial local businesses.  

DeAngelo of Harborside Health Center says the target of the federal crackdown on medical cannabis has not been bad operators.

“It has actually been those systems of local and state regulations that have worked very well,” he said. “That's why they're coming after places like [BPG] and [HHC] and the Vapor Room in San Francisco. Those are places that are paradigms of legitimacy and compliance.”

DeAngelo believes the reason the federal government is coming after medical cannabis providers in areas that have licensed medical cannabis programs is that federal prosecutors feel threatened by these successful systems of regulation.

“They know people in other parts of California and other parts of the U.S. see that regulated cannabis distribution has raised tax revenue, created well-paying jobs, reduced the burden on law enforcement, taken money and power away from street gangs and cartels, and made neighborhoods more beautiful and safe. Those are all good things, and federal prosecutors are afraid that when people all across the country see the benefits of regulating cannabis system in contrast to the downsides of prohibition, they're going to be embracing more regulated systems.”

He thinks Oakland’s victory is significant in that, as with Berkeley, it may encourage other cities and counties that have seen federal interference with their local ability to regulate, “to stand up and fight for their rights and the rights of their citizens.”

Citing the actions on the parts of Berkeley and Oakland, as well as the County Board of Supervisors in Mendocino County which is refusingto comply with a grand jury subpoena for documents regarding licensed medical cannabis within their county DeAngelo says he anticipates a growing movement on the part of local governments.